Living In Fearless Gratitude

Someone I once knew used the phrase “fearless gratitude” as her mantra. She was a vibrant girl whom I treasured and I honestly can say she did live fearlessly grateful. She loved life and she was thankful for her place in life. And I held this girl to such prestige for those very reasons.

I knew this girl during some of my more gloomy days when I struggled to be both fearless and grateful. I marveled at her perseverance towards positivity even when times were tough. I watched from a distance and wanted to be more like her. I grew closer to her, hoping some of her resolve would rub off on me. She was a role model to me as I sat in my shade, and I yearned to live with fearless gratitude one day as well.

Over the years, I catch myself thinking back on how I idolized this girl. When a difficult situation arises and I find myself drawing back into the shadows I think of her. I think of her continuous smile, constant air of happiness, and ease of brushing things off her shoulders. And so I choose to say, “No. Not today. Today I’m going to live in fearless gratitude.” And I do — I change my thoughts and find strength in the silver linings of situations.

Yet sometimes I need more assistance than just my own convictions. And today was one of those days.

About a month ago I received a phone call from my physician in regards to my annual physical. She opted to call me personally rather than let me read her findings online because she has experience with my anxiety issues. Bless her heart. She began the conversation calmly, saying, “I want you to stay calm and take a seat.” I was already seated, but my heart started to race.

She continued to tell me that my Pap test had found abnormal cells.

Precancerous.

I had never received failed test results before, whether health-wise, professionally, or even in school. I didn’t know how to react.

I’m sure she told me more, but my mind was jumping a thousand steps ahead already. I was 10 tabs into Web MD when she asked me if I was okay.

Okay? That word crept at the edges of my thoughts: precancerous.

“I will be,” I answered. “What’s my next plan of action? What do I need to do?”

My physician said she had already placed a referral into our local gynecological health system to quicken the process of treatment. She wanted me to have the cells removed as soon as possible. I tried to take this as a compliment, but all the while I was questioning why she felt that urgency.

From one call to the next, I jumped on the line to schedule the next appointment. Speaking with the gynecological office, the receptionist recommended I have a second opinion done prior to scheduling the removal procedure. I agreed but also moved to schedule the colposcopy as well since there seemed to be a waiting list already. Better safe than sorry.

After being given the same results at my second appointment, I moved through the next two weeks with “FEBRUARY 14” triple-circled on my calendar. I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day, but this year’s reason far-outreached my usual disdainful criticism of the Hallmark holiday.

I spent the days leading up to the next appointment building my strength. I spoke with friends who had gone through something similar. I Googled every term I could remember being said concerning the issue. And I attempted to remain strong inwardly and outwardly.

Overall, I felt ready for my Valentine’s Day date.

The morning of my appointment, a slew of text messages provided strength and comfort to me as I mentally prepared for the unknown. I had learned over the past few weeks that the procedure was relatively common. Perhaps not for women as young as myself, but a number of ladies I had spoken to had received similar results throughout their years of the Pap test. I also had heard what to expect in terms of the procedure and after effects. By the time 10:30am rolled around, I swallowed 8 aspirin and was ready to get ‘er done.

Fortunately the procedure passed uneventfully. There was some discomfort, but overall I was in and out quickly. The doctor walked me through the process as she went along so I knew when to expect pain and when to breathe. I even made a joke here and there, in between my nervous finger-wringing and toe-tapping.

Once released, I found another slew of messages awaiting me. “How’d it go?” “Are you okay?” “I love you.”

Similar to when I received that first phone call from my physician, my heart began to beat faster. But for a whole different reason.

I am so grateful to the beautiful people who not only reached out to me today, but who have provided assurance, encouragement, and love over the past few weeks. Though I realize that my procedure was not as serious as it could have been, receiving news containing the phrase, “precancerous” is horrifying.

I am grateful to my husband for his persistence in being by my side throughout the past month. I am grateful to my parents for their care and support. I am grateful to the girls who prayed relentlessly for positive results and quick healing. I am grateful to the ladies who took time out of their day to bring dinner and laughs to the house. I am grateful for all the thoughts, words, and hugs. (And coffee — I am very grateful for the coffee, Toto.)

And I am grateful for that girl from years ago who taught me how to live in fearless gratitude. Without continuously saying that phrase in my mind, I would not be as readily able to see the positives in my life when the negatives rear their ugly heads. Strength comes in as many facets as blessings, one just has to be willing to shine a light of the darkness. 

I am also blessed to have tribes who pick me up when I am down and carry me to a brighter light when I find myself blinded. With my tribes, I was able to walk into the procedure today with my head held high, fearless.

Today, I lived in fearless gratitude to those God has placed in my life. And I could not be more humbled or honored to be surrounded by these courageous and loving people.

I am one blessed girl.

So from the bottom of my heart — thank you, my loves. 

 

I Was Taught Strength

I’ve always known what strength a woman can have. I have a strong mother and I have strong grandmothers. I grew up learning from strong female teachers and have been blessed with strong female friends. They have all been role models to me, showing me the different forms strength can take, giving me a goal to set since I was only a toddler.

I had been a good little student with notebook and pen in hand, jotting notes on what strength looked like, yet with all the strong women I watched I did not possess genuine strength myself. I was a caterpillar in a cocoon, waiting for that all-consuming metamorphosis which would truly teach what strength was to me.

It was not until April 19, 2016 that I was taught what strength I carried myself.

Before 2016 I thought I was strong. I had been through relationship heartbreak and survived. I had suffered a bruised ego, a bruised body, and bruised self-esteem countless times and lived to tell the tales. Each is a terrible pain in its own right, yes?

Hardly.

In April 2016 I was taught what real pain feels like. Not just the pain of being scraped or dumped or cheated on or isolated.

In April 2016, I experienced extreme heartache. The type of heartache that can’t be repaired with a drunken text, a girls’ night out, a Band-aid, or months of vacation and/or self-care. I experienced the type of heartache where the person you lose is never coming back.

That person was beautiful. She was breathtaking. Someone that deserved to live a long, happy life free of hurt. But that person was ripped away from this world. She didn’t get enough time with her family, her friends, her community. She didn’t get to say everything she should have. Didn’t do everything she was meant to have done.

My strength stirred the day I found out the news — and every day since. I questioned myself. I questioned the meaning of Life and the purpose people play in it. I questioned God.

Because the entire situation was so incredibly unfair.

But God doesn’t play favorites.

My strength rippled deep in my heart and became a crashing wave. And before long the crash shifted to a roar as my eyes opened to how the world turns. It wasn’t the shadowed world where pain is felt then decreases with time. Instead, the world could be dark and dreary, slamming grief on a daily basis.

Yet here I am. I’m still breathing.

Death made me strong. Death gave my strength life.

I had never been forced to face Death before. So abrupt, so impacting. And it was either survive or drown.

So I decided to swim and I grew stronger with every stroke.

A strength that pushed me to persevere for a cause so dear to my friend. A strength that urged me to grow relationships with others close to her — women I now consider some of my closest friends. A strength that has grown into an adaptable hurricane and made me capable of weathering an unpredictable and uncontrollable Life. A strength that reminds me daily that Life is so worth the ride. A strength that carries me through all of the ups and downs cast my way.

Of course, I’m not done crying. Sometimes the tears arrive when I run across her picture or hear Uptown Funk play on the radio. Sometimes I cry when I feel overwhelmed planning an event or I see a flash of the color pink. Sometimes I cry when I catch a glimpse of blonde hair while on the elliptical or drink a sweet white wine. And the tears show up at this time of year in heavy force.

But those tears don’t make me weak. They make me strong. They make me a survivor.

I’m strong because I handled the biggest loss imaginable and I know what it feels like to miss someone that I can’t reach out to. I’m strong because I didn’t let Death turn me into a cynic. I understand Life’s insecurities and Life’s unfairness better now. I understand what it takes to get through pain and grief, along with a bit of prayer and the love and support of my friends and family.

Nothing can break me now.

Yes, my strength can ebb and flow, but like the mighty ocean it is ever-present. My strength refreshes my life, my dreams, and my goals. There is no pain greater than losing someone you love, but I now know I can overcome even that pain.

Thank you for being a mentor, role model, friend, and one of my biggest fans, Denise. I miss you every day…

But I miss you a little extra today.

How Idealizing the “Good Girl” Image Teaches Women to Put Themselves Last

Okay, let me begin by saying: “Did this woman just step into my life?” I mean, seriously. Elite Daily is well known for relating to the mass majority of its target audience, but this article was almost too direct when I read it. I grew up with the type of thinking the author discusses in the following article; I grew up believing I needed to retain to my strict ideals to make all those around me happy. It caused unwarranted stress and poor self-esteem.  Being a perfectionist was not something admirable, it was something demanded. Or so I thought. I still fight against the mistaken theory that my role in Life is to please everyone else. I still wrestle with the thought that disappointing others is a true failure on my part and I should be punished. But guess what? I’m not alone in my thinking, and we all know I love to find support with similar conflicts in Life. It’s about time all us Good Girls started making our own rules. “Stop living in someone else’s world, and start creating your own.”


Originally posted on Elite Daily:

For as long as I can remember, I self-identified – internally, of course – as a “good girl.” Because of this, my middle and high school years were pretty much smooth sailing. They were not without a couple of small bumps on the road, but overall, they were pleasant and fruitful. I found that great things happened if I followed the straight and narrow of doing as I was told.

If I fit myself into the “good girl,” cookie-cutter mold, I was ensured love, attention and conventional success. Sure, this persona was often restricting, but the payoff felt worth it.

Many of my female peers expressed this same view. With time, it became more than just a mold. Being a “good girl” became an all-encompassing identity, one we did not want to lose.

I came to know all too well the kind of vigilance that such a constant fear of losing the “good girl” image requires. Messing up, even just once, ceases to feel like a viable option. Room for error evaporates.

The thought of hearing someone say he or she was disappointed in me became one of the worst possible things I could imagine. It didn’t matter whether it was from a coach, a teacher or – heaven forbid – my parents. I started going to extremes in order to avoid all forms of conflict.

The psychological cost of causing someone to be irritated with me just seemed too great. If I developed any negative feelings or resentment, it had to be internalized. If my emotions didn’t go toward earning my “good girl” image, they weren’t allowed to exist. I had to be always happy, always thankful and always smiling. I could never be angry or bitter.

This code of conduct became a real problem during the times I needed to stand up for myself and my beliefs. My fear of the slightest criticism didn’t exactly result in a sturdy front. If I felt like what I had to say was going to be unpopular, I would subconsciously counteract any attempts at assertiveness with dismissive, fluttery hand motions, insecure body posture and upspeak (which means saying a declarative sentence as if it ends with a question mark).

These undermining behaviors were designed to make me seem less threatening, so that people wouldn’t criticize or attack me. I simply wasn’t equipped to deal with that. I didn’t have the kind of internal self-esteem that could hold up to that.

My self-esteem came from other people’s opinions. It came from pleasing them by being the “good girl.”

Peggy McIntosh, the associate director of the Wellesley Center for Women, provides evidence as to why this drive to be “good” is such a gendered phenomenon. She notes that young girls’ brains develop at an earlier age. This leads them to pick up on the emotional cues encouraging them toward compliance sooner than young boys’ brains tend to.

Girls start to fall in line and behave “favorably.” First, we do it because we can. Then, we do it because we’re rewarded for it. It doesn’t take long for us to start believing we are at our most valuable and lovable when we’re following the “good girl” rules.

We start craving more and more of that approval. We gather all our eggs in one basket in order to receive it.

Our self-esteem takes another hit as we grow older. Further gender-based socialization teaches us that it’s a major gender role violation for women to be too obvious with their expressions of self-esteem. We are told that “good girl” law prohibits it.

Thus, expressions associated with low self-esteem are often presented to us as expressions of female altruism. We are socialized to feel more comfortable underselling ourselves than boasting about ourselves to a third party. We downplay our achievements in order to get the gold star of self-deprecation parading as humility. We would rather be likable as “good girls” than risk criticism as anything else, even if that means being overlooked and underappreciated.

So, while young men are trained to present themselves as confident and self-assured – regardless of the circumstances – young women are trained to be timid and self-effacing (“Who me? Oh, I’m nothing special.”)

But guess what? This behavior sticks. Every time we actively downplay our accomplishments and feign self-doubt in the presence of others, we form bad habits that will stick around, even when we’re in the presence of nobody but ourselves.

It’s only a matter of time before our brains instinctively second-guess all our decisions. But, we can’t help it because it’s one of the main prerequisites for being considered “good girls.” “Good girls” are all we know how to be.

Allow me to fast-forward and show you how this story ends. It ends with the “good girl” spreading herself out far too thin by trying to be everything to everyone. The thing about being everything to everyone is you forget to be something to yourself. In her acclaimed piece, “Being Perfect,” Anna Quindlen sums this up brilliantly:

Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed.

And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. If you’ve been perfect all your life and managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, the chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be.

I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance.

Certainly, the fate Quindlen captures in her piece can’t be worth the flimsy status of “good girl.” Right?

The only way to avoid this outcome is to “listen to that small voice inside of you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian.” Regardless of how long the “good girl” mentality has been a driving factor in your life, know that it’s never too late to go your own way. It’s never to late too late to be your own person.

Make your own rules. Stop living in someone else’s world, and start creating your own.

This article was originally written by Caralena Peterson on May 9, 2016.

A Letter to the Girl with a Broken Heart

Two years ago, I lost my first love. To read my thoughts and feelings over the time that has passed, I am both humbled and shocked. Humbled that I was granted the blessing of maturing (a bit) through this time and given wisdom over the past two years. Shocked because I can still remember the emotions felt during what was one of the hardest decisions so far. There is so much I wish I could have known back then…


Hello dear,

Some time has passed for me, but for you it is still fresh. The hurt, the sorrow, the overwhelming grief. This boy who has been your best friend for nine years has left you stranded on the sidelines and there’s not much more for anyone to say except they’re sorry.

I guess I should say it too: I am sorry.

I am sorry because I know you’re hurting right now. I’m sorry that this sadness is paralyzing you, that the sadness is making you feel like you’re unable to go through the very basic motions of life. Eating and sleeping have become something of a distant memory and your cheeks hurt to even consider what a smile means. You don’t want to work, you don’t want to finish classes, you can’t stand being around anyone. I am so sorry you feel this way.

I remember what it felt like to lie in bed and cry myself into a state between wake and sleep. I couldn’t feel my heart anymore. That’s what you’re going through, right? You’re wondering if it is possible to live life without a pulse.

Please know that finding a way back to the surface takes time, and you are doing so well. You are ridiculously stronger than you ever realized.

I am so proud of you. 

In a few weeks you’re going to put on a brave face and rise above the surface. The tears will dry out and those around you will switch from “we’re sorry” to “you deserve so much more.”

Sometimes you’re going to nod approvingly like you get what they’re saying, other times you’re going to run from the truth and go back to the battered, beaten shadow you are today. It is during these hard times that I want you to know that love is beautiful.

Love is also scary, though. It is something to fear and be afraid of. Don’t go giving it away too freely.

Too soon you’ll realize that being alone is sometimes preferable over the deafening cry your heart will make when it finally sparks back to life. You’ll put on a brave face, attempt to pull yourself together, and stagger out the door into the disheartening World of Dating.

Unfortunately, hard times are ahead. You’re going to meet a league of boys who will not value what you have to offer. Be resilient in your search for the truth. Stay passionate of your morals, unrelenting in your beliefs, and constant in your prayer. And I promise you that you will move on to someone who values your love, your body, your mind, and especially your soul. You’ll soon be grateful that you found out early on instead of too late that this hurt was not worth a lifetime of sorrow.

I now look back on you and this situation with a sigh of relief. How blessed we are that you walked away from such a draining and toxic relationship! You are not being punished. Get that out of you head… this is a blessing in disguise that something better is out there waiting for us.

It has been two years and that sadness is now gone. So is the pain. Doubt resurfaces here and there, but overall life is good. We’re content. We’re satisfied with the outcome of the past two years. We are happy.

You will soon learn how to trust again. And then to love again. I can’t promise you won’t be hurt in the future (actually I know you will be at least a few more times), but I can promise you that it’ll be worth it.

You are about to grow so much during this upcoming summer.

You will get through this, and you are going to be amazing.

XO